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Chemical Reaction: Constructive Criticism

By: Steve Herman
Posted: September 5, 2008, from the September 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Rechelbacher founded Aveda and sold it to Lauder in 1995 for enough money to be able to follow his dreams. He is a passionate advocate of organics, and believes that anything put on the body should be safe enough to eat. He created Intelligent Nutrients, his recently launched brand, more to show how his ideal products could be made rather than to recreate the commercial success of Aveda. He is extending the possibilities of organic formulations by making no compromises in the pursuit of new functional organic ingredients, however time-consuming and costly the quest may be.

Janine Benyus is a founding figure of biomimicry, expounded in her seminal Mimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.2 The basic premise is that nature has devoted 33.5 billion years of trial-and-error to solving a multitude of problems, and the best ideas resulting from that process can be applied to our problems. Benyus has a 23-minute video lecture online, titled “12 Sustainable Ideas from Nature;” those ideas are shown in Figure 1. (Her Web site offers visual and audio of where she finds inspiration.3) Some of these concepts are directly applicable to our industry. Leaves usually don’t get dirty—nature, in general, is clean—and this helps shed light on cleaning without detergents. Leaves often have tiny hair-like structures on their surface to keep dirt from adhering. A product based on the lotus leaf—Lotusan, created by Klaudius Kurtz, a house painter in Germany—does just that. Further, using biomimicry, an antibacterial film was developed by Biosignal, an Australian company. The company studied a seaweed in which natural compounds prevent bacteria from gathering. A film was created that interfered with the signals used by microbes to communicate with one another, which prevents bacteria from colonizing. The film thus prevents infection without creating superstrains of harmful bacteria.

There are several organizations promoting biomimicry. The Biomimicry Institute offers a design portal, described as “a digital library of nature’s solutions organized by function that is both a cross-pollinating tool and a collaboration forum.”4 Also on its site, the Biomimicry Design Spiral was created by Carl Hastrich to teach biomimicry principles in a visually understandable form (Figure 2).

Finally, a feature in The New York Times on WALA’s Dr Hauschka5 noted the brand’s basis on the anthroposophic teachings of Rudolf Steiner, who encouraged biodynamic agriculture. Dr Hauschka, in fact, shuns organic certification in the U.S., feeling its own methods are much stricter. The garden in which its materials are sourced is beyond organic; visitors, for example, cannot use cell phones in order to “avoid disturbing the harmony of nature.” Founded by Rudolf Hauschka in 1935 to develop natural remedies, the biodynamic garden was planted in 1955. The crops are harvested by hand, and ingredients are extracted using water, emphatically not alcohol or other solvents.

These ideals—along with some of the brand’s other sourcing initiatives—too may hold lessons for wider industry application. And a book like Malkan’s can serve to jolt us out of complacency—even as we refute certain aspects.